The Great Forgetting

Photo: JLantzy

Photo: JLantzy

Lest we forget our once and former culture … Via Deep Ecology Hub:

The Great Forgetting refers to the wealth of knowledge that our culture lost when we adopted our new civilized lifestyle. The knowledge that allowed indigenous cultures to survive, the knowledge that we had once also been tribal and the understanding that we were but one mere culture of thousands. All of this disappeared in a few short generations.

The Great Forgetting accounts for an enourmous cultural collapse as once tribal people found themselves in a new and strange mass centralized society. New beliefs, new ways of life rushed into this cultural vaccuum to fill the void. But without being tested by natural selection over thousands of years this new culture was evolutionarily unstable.

It is only recently that the Great Forgetting has been exposed. Understanding it holds the key to making sense of our destructive culture. And remembering what it is that was forgotten holds the key to our future.

How The Great Forgetting Took Place

It began around 10,000 years ago when one culture in the Near East adopted a new way of life that humans had not tried before.

They began to practice an intensive form of agriculture which enabled them to live in a settled location.

They developed large food surpluses which led to a population and geographic explosion. What began as farming communes eventually turned into villages, then into towns, and then kingdoms. Civilization began.

But it was a long time before anybody began to write down history, several thousand years later in fact. What happened in between was that the people of this culture forgot what had happened. They forgot that they once were hunter gatherers and foragers who lived a nomadic lifestyle. They assumed that mankind arrived on the planet at the same time as civilization. They assumed that civilization and settled agriculture was the natural state of mankind, as natural as living in a herd and grazing is to buffalo.
Naturally this gave rise to the belief that we were only a few thousand years old, that mankind had began when civilization began.

The primitive cultures that lived on the fringe areas of early civilization would appear to suggest that humans had lived another way. But they were easily explained away. They had fallen from the natural state of civilization; they had degraded into savagery. They had once lived as fully fledged humans but they had forgotten the way and now they were inferior, they were sub-human…

[continues at Deep Ecology Hub]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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10 Comments on "The Great Forgetting"

  1. BuzzCoastin | Jan 26, 2014 at 5:04 pm |

    as far as I can tell
    civilized humans are incapable of preserving an account of their distant past
    while tribal cultures have preserved thoudands of years of info
    through chants, songs & dancing

    totalitarian agriculture
    is the major catalyst behind civilization
    the first step in disconnecting from nature

  2. The first “memory hole”?

  3. Good old Ishmael.

    Also by Daniel Quinn: The Story of B, My Ishmael, and Providence. All excellent works. Changed my perspective on things. In undergrad, my philosophy professor shared a copy I lent to him with the rest of his department.It had a way of being passed along, and it looks like it still does.

  4. sonicbphuct | Jan 27, 2014 at 5:29 am |

    I have been doing thought experiments with the question: how many humans could be “lost” (for whatever reason, disease, man-made/natural disaster, etc.) before our current culture would no longer be tenable. Of course, it would all depend upon the distribution, but if say, 90% of all humans just disappeared ( I like to imagine the Great Christian Rapture 🙂 ), how long before those left would essentially die off because they/we have forgotten how to live outside of our “civilized” culture, and the guys at the Nuke plant got rapture-d?

    This got me thinking about how other cultures that were destroyed by the “western techno force” had previously held a wealth of knowledge, which invariably led to those cultures that are hanging on today in precarious positions as they lose their Cultural Knowledge because the “Peace Corps” goes in and “teaches” people to farm or settle down (think Tauregs (sp?), african tribes, asian tribes, etc.).

    which then made me think – wow, if we kill ourselves, how many others are we taking with us? Is Narcissism possible on a species level? It would certainly appear so.

    However, mental games aside, this piece very clearly describes Culture’s role in evolution, and that it is, in fact, an agent of evolution as much as any other “natural” phenomenon.

  5. Rhoid Rager | Jan 27, 2014 at 6:12 am |

    You forgot exponentially expanding money through usury prior to exponentially expanding economics….and you miss the lynch pin of the whole damned thing–exponentially expanding energy reserves….well until this decade anyways time for the energy descent! weeeeeee!

    • Your right, but i think both of those fit into the category of Exponentially Expanding Economies.

      What we call the Economy is a symbolic representation of our culture’s ‘ecological niche’ and resource allocation. Civilized culture subverts and erodes biospheres into which it expands to transform energy into human biomass. Incidently, it’s not humanity that is a cancer for the planet–but the cities

      • Rhoid Rager | Feb 4, 2014 at 11:48 am |

        If it’s the cities then, don’t contradict yourself.
        You’re missing the larger point of what makes ‘exponentially expanding economies’ want to expand in the first place–usury–aka ‘The Big Accelerating Treadmill’.
        Don’t confuse effect with cause. Exponential expansion is effect. Usury is cause.

        • I don’t see a contradiction. Civilized = Cities
          –settlements that rely on perpetually extracting and subverting resources to expand.

          What you say about usury makes sense definitely. It seems like its the main ‘social practice’ involved in all the civilized economic fuckery. But that practice still presents effect rather than cause, it comes from beliefs about the nature of reality on a fundamental scale.

  6. “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” ~George Orwell

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